Jega's Wobbly Start and Our Huge Expectations.
Contrary to expectations, the much awaited parliamentary election in Nigeria turned to a huge anti-climax. The hype, the high hope and the huge expectation loaded into the election to start what is considered a critical test of democracy flailed and floundered as the charge of logistic bottlenecks riddled the conduct of the election in virtually all the states. As expected, Nigerians were disappointed, indeed shocked by the shortfall experienced on election morning. Yours truly was inundated with barrages of reports that the election was totally marred by the same logistic traps that have refused to depart from our usual shoddy way of doing just everything.
I was really flustered that our hopes for recreation from an acrid and loony present were on tenterhooks once more. I was peeved that, once again, we were trudging on the paths of Hades and our hopes for redemption was just percolating before our very eyes and we looked awkward and clueless on what went wrong and the best possible ways of effecting repairs. I worked feverishly on the phones, put calls through to most of my contacts in all parts of the country and the report was the same hopeless case and no one seemed to know what went wrong. I hooked up to the reliable citizen report sites and the reports were overwhelming that what I thought to be an isolated case of tardiness was indeed a national tragedy, occasioned by factors no one but Jega and his INEC leadership could fathom.
I was still doing my rounds, vetting news, sending out feeds and tracking events when Jega convened his press conference and after strutting through the usual excuses of logistic shortfalls occasioned by events in Japan and why INEC could not get enough ballot papers, election materials and all what not, announced a postponement of the election to Monday, 4th April. Unlike in the past, when officials would weave a duplicitous cloth of self-righteousness and forage for excuses apart from themselves, Jega was humble enough to admit his shortfalls and those of his INEC but still re-affirmed the commitment of his INEC to deliver a credible election this April.
For the second time, we have been exposed to the limitations of Jega and his INEC. The first was during the registration exercise, where INEC wobbled through what was considered an important requirement for a free and fair election. Even as Nigerians agreed to tolerate the imperfections of the registration exercise, they really anticipated great improvement in the elections and they were justified to so expect. Yes, the registration tethered to a lack luster photo finish but it could still be a precursor to a sparkling delivery in April. That was the thought, writ large in the eager and anxious minds of Nigerians that really desired for a self auditing electoral process that could be trusted to give them the right leadership that will drive their innate desires for self and group fulfillment.
It should therefore be expected that Nigerians would be worried, indeed sorely distressed when reports filtered on election morning that the exercise was bedeviled by worse logistic challenges and what made it all the more worrisome was that INEC looked totally defeated at that critical time. I believe that Nigerians started hazarding the future of the nation if we cannot call a hitchless election at this turn of the century. I believe Nigerians' anxiety mode was fully activated and the fear of the unknown must have crept to seduce the hearts of Nigerians as the dilemma lasted. Yes, there were wire reports in the international media suggesting a possible call off of the election on the Election Day eve but many Nigerians never anticipated the entire thing could be so hobbled by the same old, tiring challenges we should have comfortably put behind us by this turn of the century.
However, the decision by Jega to arrest the fledgling exercise and order a postponement was in order. The decision to stop the process and address the challenges to ensure better delivery and result was well thought of, even as it is regrettable. While many were wont to see it as a sign of failure for Jega and his INEC, I refuse to tow such line. With the benefit of hindsight, what any INEC umpire desirous of committing electoral shrift would have done is to gloss over the flaws that precipitated this postponement, merely add up the figures for the ruling party and that would be touted as election as we have been seeing since 2003.
On this Jega promise to deliver a credible election, I am incurably optimistic and still believe we are on track. Perhaps I may need the final result of the first election to test my optimism but so far, I still believe that Jega has not failed but merely buckled to serious logistic challenges but not defeated. I do not see any problem in admitting possible areas of flaw, arresting the process and correcting it. It is not a symptom of failure.
However we look at it and whatever extra mile we may be ready to grant Jega, the postponement is definitely a horrible start for him. It speaks of ill preparedness and does so much to shrink faith and confidence in Jega as the one looked upon to break the sash of shambolic elections in Nigeria. He must take due cognizance of this reading and in a typical mea culpa to redress the awesome credit he has shredded by this disappointing start.
Jega must sit up. In fact, I was hugely embarrassed by his tiring story and I believe he should also be embarrassed. I know that millions of Nigerians were very disappointed in his story. I was miffed by his simplistic attitude to what should be a complex case and that has ensured he puts big question marks in his much taunted integrity and capacity to swerve us away from the staid paths of electoral perfidy. He must see the sad and long faces Nigerians wear as a result of his own flaws and make it up for Nigerians with flawless election everybody can swear with. Where he lacks knowledge and expertise, he should feel humble enough to access better expertise. Where he lacks good reasons, he should stoop to ask for it from those who have it. yes, he has drawn up beautiful work plan to deliver but then he should realize that without the will and the acumen to take those seductive plans off the pieces of paper where he drew them, they remain ineffectual theoretical outpourings of a well meaning but weak and challenged mindset. He should not ever think he can do it alone. He should outsource key challenges to competent faculties who may not necessarily be domiciled in his present INEC. So long as he takes the final credit, he takes no risk for so doing.
That said, Nigerians are deeply hurting from the embarrassing shortfalls Jega's INEC has so far displayed. They are right to question his competence so his is the challenge to soothe their frayed nerves and re-establish faith in his ability to deliver. How he delivers on Monday will go a long way to clear the deep crevices of disappointment that burrow on the eyebrows of Nigerians at this moment and mercifully for Jega, it is a short time for him to bounce back and re-plant himself in the minds of Nigerians. They are tired of hearing stories and tales that rather worsen our endless throes of election misery. They desperately want a positive change and Jega must give it to them. But Nigerians should renew their faith in Jega, even when it has been badly shaken. They should give Jega this extra mile, as they have been doing since his appointment. It won't hurt to have a two days postponement but by Monday, we will be in the best position to review if Jega is indeed worth the hefty goodwill we have collectively invested on him and that is when the detailed reports and initial results of the National Assembly election must have filtered in. Peter Claver Oparah. E-mail: